What a wild ride the last few years have been! Inbound tourism went from Hero to Zero in only a few days. Then, at least here at Exceptional Kangaroo Island, we bounced back stronger than ever with an extraordinary amount of pent-up demand. Within the first 12 months of the borders reopening, we had the busiest period in 33 years of operation and had returned to over 75% inbound. Looking at the last six months, our inbound guests accounted for 84% of our business. There is a keen sense of wanting to enjoy the freedom of travel, to experience the solitude some of us are lucky enough to live with every day, and an obvious element of empathy in learning how our community and environment have recovered from the 2019/20 bushfires.
How are things going post-fire?
There is no doubt that some of us are still hurting from the fires – even though they were three and a half years ago. People lost their lives, and those who remain will never see the world the same way. Collectively we lost over 90 homes, and some were not rebuilt. Others were – and people took the opportunity to review where they built – is there a better outlook, more sheltered than the previous location? Farms were re-fenced with a different layout that allows more efficient sheep and cattle movement through the property. For example, businesses rebuilt with more contemporary designs and efficient power management systems. The mantra “build back better” was often stated – we cannot change what happens, but we can choose how we respond to such events.
From a nature perspective, fire recovery is complex – some more-mobile species can re-populate fast and benefit from the changed conditions. Others are slower – for example, nectar-feeding insects, birds, and mammals are perhaps slowest to recover within the burn zone as many nectar-producing plants (Eucalyptus being a great example) get reset to a juvenile growth phase and produce only leaves for up to four years post-fire and only then are mature enough to flower. The landscape is very different – the regrowth is so dense that much of the wildlife within the burn zone is hard to see.
Luckily we have many monitoring activities that give excellent data on what species are present and in what numbers – an example of these is camera traps. Think of a table-tennis net strung through the bush for 30 yards. Smaller creatures wandering along come to the barrier and turn to try to get around it, which drafts them right past a camera that takes a selfie. These cameras operate automatically for months, quietly recording the activity of birds and animals in the bush. So, we know more about our smaller creatures’ survival strategies and populations now than we did before the fires. We only have the resources to do this monitoring because of people’s extraordinary donations worldwide in response to the fires.
From a touring perspective, an essential element to keep in mind is the wildlife experience on the west end (Flinders Chase National Park) has changed. Whilst we know from the monitoring work already mentioned that the wildlife is still there, it is not evident as many species are widely dispersed. This situation will only change once the canopy completely closes over and the larger species like kangaroos and wallabies revert to the edges of adjacent grassland. There is a real risk that self-drive visitors could visit Flinders Chase National Park and not see wallabies, kangaroos or koalas – they need to speak to locals to get advice on where to find the animals. Considering itinerary development, we recommend travel planners select our Island Life tour as this landscape was largely unaffected by fire, and the experience is unchanged. The Flinders Chase Focus day is still excellent – but other than the fantastic fur-seal encounters at Cape du Couedic, the main themes are coastal geology, fire ecology, maritime heritage and conservation history. These tours are complemented by a third aimed at foodies – Fine Flavours, and two of these can be combined as a Kangaroo Island in Style module or all three into Kangaroo Island Immersion.
The most significant fact that visitors need to understand is that nearly 60% of our Island did not burn – so the experiences and appearance of the landscape remain as they have for years with our beaches, coastline, native vegetation and large populations of wildlife as accessible as they always were. The fires are part of our story but do not define us.
We have taken the enforced break in touring over the past few years to review and refine our touring content and have consolidated our private touring modules into eight themes. Each is a three-day itinerary that includes the signature wildlife encounters, diverse landscapes and signature al fresco dining experiences that we are known for, and enhanced by the inclusion of some behind-the-scenes activities. The themes are:
- Luxe Couples – for those celebrating a honeymoon, anniversary or special birthday
- Young Families – for little travellers
- Conservation Connection – teaming up with some of our ecologists and researchers
- Photo Safari – right place at the right time for that perfect image
- Fished, Farmed and Fermented – getting an authentic flavour of the Island
- Active Explorers – a multi-mode adventure
- Wild about Birds – seeking out some of the many Kangaroo Island endemic subspecies of birds; and
- Art Immersion – learning about the large number of visual artists who are part of the Island community
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Qantas flight schedule update
Everyone has been frustrated by the ever-changing days, times and flight availability – the aviation sector is taking longer than anticipated to normalise post-COVID. Some good news to share, as Qantas has a new schedule for ADL/KGC/ADL beginning 29 October 2023 and loaded through to 26 October 2024.
In summary, the implications of the new schedule are:
- 12 return flights each week to Kangaroo Island during Summer 2023/24, with two flights on each weekday, as well as daily flights on weekends;
- Nine return flights each week to Kangaroo Island during Winter 2024, with daily flights; and
- A change in all afternoon flight times, with KGC-ADL moving from a 3.05 pm time slot to 5.00 pm
- A change in winter morning flight times from ADL-KGC 8.45 am to 9.05 am.
Southern Ocean Lodge touring partnership
The fact that Southern Ocean Lodge is nearing completion has the industry buzzing. We have missed this flagship luxury icon and are looking forward to its’ return and the first guests checking in on 6 December 2023.
A stay at Southern Ocean Lodge features an all-inclusive touring itinerary of guided excursions designed daily to offer guests a first-hand encounter of the natural environment and the abundant wildlife roaming freely. The experiences included in the tariff are provided on a shared basis with fellow guests at scheduled times throughout the stay.
For guests wishing to experience these regions on their own, optimise their arrival and depart days to explore further afield, or who have the desire to tailor an itinerary around special interests on Kangaroo Island, Southern Ocean Lodge continues to partner with EKI to host a suite of private full-day experiences.
The EKI bespoke experiences menu on offer for Southern Ocean Lodge guests do attract additional charges and can be booked directly with EKI or via the Southern Lodge reservations team.
A new enhancement on this last tailor-made option is the ability to build a unique adventure by choosing some of the eleven value-add elements that range from wood-turning to private wine-tasting to a gin-blending masterclass.
The complete list is as follows:
- The Enchanted Fig Tree dining with Gastronomo
- “A Day in the Life of a wildlife researcher” with Dr Peggy Rismiller, the world echidna expert
- Assembled Art – an encounter with Janine Mackintosh
- Private ocean rafting with a wild dolphin swim with Kangaroo Island Marine Adventures.
- The “Small 5” – ecological monitoring with KI Land for Wildlife
- Private Barrel Room tasting with Islander Estate Vineyard; and
- Gin Blending Masterclass with Kangaroo Island Distillery
But I thought that Southern Ocean Lodge was all-inclusive of transfers and experiences?
It is, but plenty of clients prefer to tour privately and experience some of the destination’s behind-the-scenes elements. Suppose you do upgrade clients to private experiences. In that case, it is essential to communicate clearly to guests that they are making a deliberate choice for private touring – we had previous guests whose agents booked private touring that felt they had “paid twice”, given the tariff includes the small group Signature Experiences.
Key elements to communicate are:
- Private tours incur an additional cost.
- They may duplicate elements of the Signature Experiences included in the room tariff.
- Included experiences are group-oriented, accommodating up to 10 guests.
- EKI experiences offer elegant picnics and barbecues in remote and private locations, and you can explore places not included in the Signature Experiences.
- EKI guides, as locals, can provide a deep insight into the Island’s ecology, history, economy, and lifestyle.
- Private tours can cater for specific interests, like food and wine, wildlife conservation, arts, and culture. They can include private sessions with local artists, ecologists, or winemakers with prior notice.
- Arrival or departure touring allows guests to maximise limited vacation time by exploring the Island en route instead of transferring point-to-point and traversing the same ground later to visit locations they have already bypassed.
- Suites will undoubtedly be ready on arrival post-tour – which is rarely the case with a morning arrival.
For many of our distribution partners, it has been quite a while since key product staff visited Kangaroo Island. The combination of bushfires, COVID-19 and the passage of time has wrought many changes on the accommodation scene here. Some properties no longer exist, others have decided not to partner with trade and rely on a B to C model, and others are new or have undergone name changes or significant upgrades. The following list, arranged in alphabetic order, is not exhaustive. There are many options on the Island, and we partner with those that work best from a logistics perspective, are trade friendly, offer a dinner, bed and breakfast service, and value the collaboration that our team brings to the relationship. We are not interested in any particular accommodation outcome and enjoy the flexibility to offer the same quality touring for guests staying at high-end places and more simple accommodations.
The Aurora Ozone on the seafront in Kingscote is the largest property on the Island, with 88 rooms. Our usual room type is Executive Seaview in the hotel’s modern wing, across the street from the original building. The restaurant has had a recent upgrade and a significant change to the dining quality. Based on dinner this week, the new menu is excellent, and the restaurant features one of the most comprehensive wine lists on the Island. EKI share or private touring.
Launched initially as a self-catering pair of off-grid villas, Ecopia has added capacity with The Residence (three bedrooms) and some catering options. Meals are a carefully curated produce hamper for simple, self-service meals or a more elaborate hosted Chef dinner. Guests enjoy the freedom to roam across the property, and wildlife encounters are guaranteed. Plans have been lodged for additional accommodation on the extensive property, formally protected as a wildlife sanctuary. EKI private touring only.
New owners, 1834 Hotels, have renovated the lodge’s public spaces, rebuilt the kitchen and painted the property. Rooms have had a refresh, and the 5 room types all have views out to Eastern Cove, and they have some well-configured interconnecting making them perfect for families. “Reflections” restaurant has regular menu changes to showcase the best seasonal Island produce. EKI share or private touring.
This property is an elegant and contemporary home nestled in the bush fronting onto one of our best beaches. There is no public vehicle access, so it is virtually a private beach. Accommodating up to 10 guests in five bedrooms, all with private facilities, One Kangaroo Island is fully hosted by a personal Chef. Most beds are zipper-King, making it an easy choice for a high-end multi-generation family. Around the property, the bush has been carefully restored by removing introduced weeds and other plants and re-establishing native species. Resident kangaroos and wallabies carefully mow a small lawn. Birdbaths are scattered around the extensive decks and boardwalks, providing opportunities to enjoy the birdlife. Small nest boxes are strategically placed around the garden, many of which have rent-free lodgers – tiny Western Pygmy Possums! EKI private touring only.
If you were wondering what ever happened to Molly’s Run, it was purchased by Tony and Liane, who changed the name. The concept is unchanged – three en-suite rooms and full-service hosted dining. It pairs well with Stranraer Homestead if that is unavailable. EKI share or private touring.
Kangaroo Island Seaview Motel
If only all motels could morph into contemporary, warm and welcoming accommodations like this! Yen, who was part of the Southern Ocean Lodge management team, is the owner. Soft refurbishments reflect a modern beach-house style, making the rooms simple but elegant. The Federation-style guest house has a modern makeover. The Odd Plate restaurant is setting a new standard for Island dining. Also ex-Southern Ocean Lodge, partners and Chefs Dylan and Yolandi offer superb multi-course dining that makes the most of our seasonal fare. Popular breakfast spot Cactus, just across the road, is also owned by Yen in partnership with Louis, another Southern Ocean Lodge alumnus. EKI share or private touring
Including Seadragon Lodge on our list here is unusual as they do their own touring. We want to give Karen, John, Alice and Greg a shout-out as we love what they have done with the extensive property upgrades and also welcome their energy in showcasing Kangaroo Island. Our challenge is one of logistics and sustainability. The touring distance for a two-day two-night Kangaroo Island In Style staying at Stranraer Homestead covers 446 km, whilst to do the same touring content, from our base in Cygnet River, for guests at Seadragon, we have to cover 876 km, nearly double the distance. To add more context, the same itineraries working out of Southern Ocean Lodge is 575 km. Considering the cost of additional fuel, carbon footprint, vehicle wear and tear, and fatigue management for our team, it is a better business decision to concentrate on accommodations closer to home.
Baillie Lodges have informed trade partners with regular updates, but in case you have missed them, here is the story in summary. Post-fire, there was an almost forensic site clean-up. Research has been ongoing with specialists collaborating with the Department for Environment and Water on making the rebuilt lodge more fire-resilient. The footprint of the buildings is very similar, with a slight increase in capacity, from a previous 21 suites to 25, including the ultra-premium and secluded Ocean Pavillion with the flexibility of up to a four bedroom/four bathroom configuration. The lodge now features a gym with hot and cold plunge pools and a pool in front of the Great Room, and the Southern Spa is in a new location adjacent to the gym. Each suite has a similar position, slightly articulating the floor plan to provide a view along the rugged coastline rather than simply out to the cliff edge. EKI private touring only.
If there was an Oscar for consistent service, Lyn and Graham would have a row of little trophies! The farming enterprise is now managed by Derek, their son, leaving Lyn and Graham to focus on the superb hospitality that has defined Stranraer Homestead for so long. Capacity has been increased from the three rooms within the main house to include now a two-bedroom option at the Manager’s Residence. EKI share or private touring.
The Cliff House
Previously offered as part of Lifetime Private Retreats, The Cliff House is returning the way it started. That is, as a fully-hosted three-bedroom holiday home catering for up to seven people on the cliffs at Snellings Beach. Creative, bordering on the theatrical dining experiences hosted by Rachel, define this as a unique accommodation experience, and the beautiful beach will be an excellent draw for UK and Scandi clients in particular. EKI private touring.
The River/Wanderer’s Rest
Recently purchased by a couple with an outstanding combined skillset (Wellness/Spa meets Executive Chef), what was Wanderer’s Rest will relaunch in late 2023 as The River. The boutique property (nine rooms) will boast what aims to be “Australia’s Best Seafood Restaurant”. We love the ambition and can’t wait to try it. EKI share or private touring.
Independent Holiday Homes
We can offer one of several elegant holiday homes to accommodate high-end travellers, with dining a combination of private “dial a Chef” and dinner at the Odd Plate, for example. We coordinate dinner transfers with Kangaroo Island Transfers. Should your preferred full-service accommodation options be available elsewhere, we can assist. These include Hamilton and Dune, The Cape, Copperstone and Bellmore on the Bay. These are only partially trade-friendly, but we can usually assemble a nett rate package to solve an availability challenge.
Ferry vs Air Travel?
Given our base in Cygnet River is only one kilometre from the airport, we have traditionally worked mainly with air arrivals for guests. One of the challenges in trying to cater for ferry arrivals on the day of touring relates to the logistics. The ferry terminal is 60 km east of our base, and the 0900 ferry from Cape Jervis arrives at 0945, precisely the same time as the morning QantasLink flight from Adelaide. To put this in context for tour pick-ups – it is like trying to collect guests in a Melbourne city hotel and Geelong simultaneously, Circular Quay and the Blue Mountains, or Brisbane and the Gold Coast. These locations are the same distance from Kingscote Airport and the Penneshaw Ferry Terminal. If guests want to come on the ferry, we recommend travelling over the day or even the evening before – there is a touring option with Coast & Co outlined below. That makes the start of the touring day for Kangaroo Island far more leisurely.
Coast & Co partnership
Working with Simon at Coast and Co, we continue to offer an integrated Fleurieu private wine country experience as a journey south to Cape Jervis and the ferry. Rather than a point-to-point transfer, this immersive journey makes the most of the landscape and opportunities en route. Guests can experience two regions in the same trip, leveraging Simon’s deep connections through the wineries of the Southern Vales and creative producers. At the end of the day is the ferry trip to Kangaroo Island, and the next morning our guides collect them to begin their Island exploration.
Language app development
Everyone we speak to can tell a similar story of the challenges of finding staff – and those trying to find language guides have keenly felt that issue. We have done well in keeping our core staff and recruiting some new team members who collectively speak English (an Australian version!), French, Spanish, German and Portuguese. In recognising the challenge of providing a diversity of languages in the rebuild, we have partnered with Vox Tours to develop an App-based language enhancement. This platform will allow guests joining our small group or private tours with an English-speaking guide to access the core content (wildlife, history, attractions, safety briefings) in the language of their choice on their Smartphones, with the delivery of information at the right time and place triggered by GPS nodes. We are working hard developing this content – watch this space for updates.
Our rates are complete – if you do not receive them from us or a distribution partner, please contact Jamie at firstname.lastname@example.org. We have been waiting on essential elements from some of our collaboration partners – we appreciate your patience.
Updated Image Gallery
We have been working on updating our image gallery, taking images as opportunities arise and participating with South Australian Tourism Commission and Tourism Australia shoots, including the National Experiences Content Initiative (NECI). Images are available at www.exceptionalki.format.com, and if you need higher resolution versions, please get in touch with Blair – email@example.com.
Some of this work included filming new video footage. Blair has edited a 60-second highlights reel that you can download and use on your website or social media posts.
Below is a video with a logo placeholder at the end – if you wish to have a version which includes your logo, please email Blair.